Re: Wabash Boxcar in Atlanta, IL

Ray Breyer

Hi guys,

What a super boxcar restoration and display but a double door
auto car for shipping grain? Was this a "common practice"?
Don Valentine
In a word, no. Grain doors were sized to fit the standard 6'
boxcar door opening in the steam era. Occasionally, 7 and 8
foot door boxcars may have been pressed into service. This
was done only as a last resort, because grain doors, like
boxcars, were always in short supply during the harvest rush.
Robert D. Heninger
Thanks very much, Bob. That's about what I expected.
Don Valentine

OK, not so fast. I just quickly went through my photo stash, and almost immediately found two photos of double door cars spotted at grain elevators. One's from the Tacoma Public Library collection, and shows an old C&O single sheathed, double door car, with both all-wood doors open, spotted under an elevator's loading lean-to. The second is from the Life collection, and shows a Pennsy steel double door car spotted at a large elevator/mill complex.

I can think of at least four reasons why a "double door" box could be spotted at an elevator:

1) The car was misdelivered. Yard crews, trainmen, and agents aren't gods, and they certainly didn't get things right all the time, especially in the pre-computer era. Show me someone who says railroads didn't regularly screw up car deliveries, and I'll show you someone who doesn't know what they're talking about.

2) The car was carrying something, or was being loaded with something, other than bulk grain. Is the "elevator" really a mill? If so, a double door car could be loaded with bagged grain and feed. Is the small town elevator also a hardware store, tractor sales point, lumberyard and local team track? If so, that double door car could be delivering just about anything to "the elevator" from lube oil to hatched chicks.

3) Is that "double door" boxcar REALLY a "double door" boxcar? Or has one door been sealed 14 years ago, making it into a plain box which is now suitable for grain loading? This is pretty common, so you may not really be seeing what you think you're seeing. The Wabash sealed a lot of those double door cars like the one in Atlanta, so that car's completely appropriate for the display. Chet French has provided me with Wabash car delivery lists to the Central Soya mill in Gibson City, IL, and there are a couple of these sealed door cars in the mix.

4) A conversation as overheard in Green Bay, Wisconsin, circa 1944: "Welcome to the grain rush. We're short of cars, so that elevator in Sturgis is getting anything we can find. What's that? We've a single sheathed with double doors on hand? Good; someone send that new kid from the car department over there with a 4x4, a bunch of 2x4s and some nails; we'll fix the doors so the car can hold grain."
(OK, this is a made up conversation, but you get the point. And some early double sheathed double door wagon cars had removable vertical posts between the doors; I wouldn't be surprised to see a few of these sorts of cars on the roster of granger roads)

The 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s are NOT the 2000s. Things were hugely different 50 to 100 years ago, and railroads did things intuitively back then that are NOT intuitive today. Remember, "Sunday chicken dinner" was a big deal because chickens weren't eaten all that often (too expensive and valuable as egg makers). Today, chicken is the most eaten meat in America. It's this sort of difference in thinking that can make a double door boxcar a natural (though probably not common) thing to see at a local elevator.


Ray Breyer

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